Dialing Up Palm OS

Kyocera, Handspring Handhelds Offer Different Strengths

Following divergent paths to wireless voice and data convergence, Kyocera Corp.s QCP 6035 Smartphone and Handspring Corp.s VisorPhone Springboard module each do a good job of bringing cellular phone functionality to the Palm OS handheld platform.

Both units performed well in eWeek Labs tests. However, we recommend that users evaluating these products decide first whether theyre looking for a phone with PDA (personal digital assistant) capabilities—where the QCP 6035 shines—or a PDA with phone functionality—where the VisorPhone excels.

The QCP 6035 delivers a more tightly integrated cellular phone experience but doesnt offer the same range of expansion options that the Visor plus VisorPhone does. Users can swap the VisorPhone for another Springboard module or team the Visor with a keyboard or other accessory designed for the units synchronization port.

The Code Division Multiple Access-based QCP 6035, which ships this month, is a descendant of Qualcomm Inc.s much-maligned pdQ Smartphone. However, the QCP 6035 succeeds where its bricklike forebear failed, by combining a cellular phone and a Palm OS handheld in a manageable form factor.

A Little Perspective

In exchange for the smaller form factor, the QCP 6035 must sacrifice screen size—with a 1.75-by-1.75-inch display, Kyoceras unit unseats the Palm m100 as the smallest-screened Palm OS handheld available. The small display size makes it more difficult to read data and input it into the device than with the Visor, but compared with most WAP (Wireless Application Protocol)-enabled cellular phones, the QCP 6035s display is relatively generous in size.

Springboard to Functions

With the December release of the ingenious Global System for Mobile Communications-based VisorPhone, Handspring fulfills the expectations it created when the company included an integrated microphone in its first Visor handheld and delivers its most compelling expansion product for the Visors Springboard slot to date.

The Handspring product carries none of the display-size sacrifices of the QCP 6035, but the Visor and VisorPhone make a relatively ungainly pair, which together weigh about an ounce more than the Kyocera device.

According to a Kyocera spokesman, individual wireless carriers will set the price for and market the QCP 6035, but Kyocera expects the device will cost about $500. This compares favorably with the cost of the $299 VisorPhone module and $299 Visor Platinum handheld combination that we tested. The VisorPhone is compatible with the Visor Solo, Deluxe and Prism as well.

Apart from its smaller display, the QCP 6035 is a relatively standard Palm OS device—the unit runs Palm OS Version 3.5 and ships with 8MB of RAM, which is the standard for most Palm OS-based handhelds.

In addition to the standard Palm OS with which it ships, the QCP 6035 includes a mixture of operating system extensions that enables and manages the devices wireless functionality, some of which will be included in Palm OS 4.0, and others that were developed specifically by Kyocera.

The QCP 6035 ships with a serial cradle for synchronizing data with a desktop machine, as well as for charging the units batteries. The cradles serial connection, however, provides lower synchronization speed than the Universal Serial Bus cradle that comes with Visor handhelds.

On the plus side, QCP 6035 has a flip-down keypad that offers a traditional phone interface, along with some protection for the display, whereas VisorPhone requires dialing via on-screen buttons.

Both QCP 6035 and VisorPhone are capable of data rates between 9.6K bps to 14.4K bps, which fall far short of desktop Internet speeds but are acceptable for other wireless data options.

The applications with which the QCP 6035 comes bundled include Qualcomms Eudora Web browser and e-mail applications for Palm OS devices, as well as a WAP browser and a voice dial application.

VisorPhone includes a modest application set, consisting of programs to manage its phone and Subscriber Identity Module card features and an application to send SMS (Short Message Service) messages. However, we were able to install the same Eudora applications found on QCP 6035 on Visor—any Palm OS application that requires a modem connection can use VisorPhone for this connection.

VisorPhone required us to connect to the Internet via a separate ISP (Internet service provider), a service that incurs a separate cost as well. For the QCP 6035 we tested, no separate ISP was required, but the price for this could be built into the service contract of the wireless carrier that sells QCP 6035.

The data calls made on each device are metered in minutes in the way that voice calls are—data-only wireless products, such as those that operate on Cellular Digital Packet Data networks, offer unlimited access plans.

The QCP 6035 is powered by a lithium-ion battery, which yields up to 4.5 hours of talk time and up to 110 hours of standby time, according to Kyocera. Handspring rates VisorPhone, also equipped with a lithium-ion battery, at 3 hours of talk time and 70 hours on standby.

The QCP 6035 includes a scroll button like that of Sony Corp.s Clié, which we found helpful when scrolling through Web pages and in-box messages.

The VisorPhone module protrudes from about a half-inch above the top of the Visor handheld in which its inserted, and roughly from a quarter-inch from the back of the Visor.

The module features an on/off switch and three other controls, which launch the SMS and Dialer applications and toggle the module between ring and vibrate alert modes.

Both devices feature a hands-free headset jack, which let us run PDA applications normally while engaged in voice calls. The only exceptions are applications that require an Internet connection—neither device can make voice and data calls simultaneously. We found the hands-free headset particularly important for using VisorPhone, which was a bit awkward to use while held to the ear, like a standard phone.